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Sunday, December 7, 2014

On the Trail of the Fisher

Two of my fall traditions came together this year in the form of fisher tracks and photos. My father
Fisher crosses a log
11/12, Fremont, NY
owns about 80 acres of forest and field in the town of Fremont, NY and each fall semester I put out ten camera traps in hopes of capturing images of black bears. Two weeks later, I bring my Black Bear Management class to the property and we retrieve the cameras and look for signs of bear. We did succeed in capturing a (single) image of a black bear but the real star of the show this year was fisher.
Fisher are recent additions to the fauna of that area. In 2012, I saw a fisher from my tree stand and decided that day I would try a camera trap set to capture an image. There is a small gully on the property with a fallen tree acting as a natural bridge. I reasoned that this was a perfect location for a fisher to travel. I was right, It only took 36 hours to capture a fisher with my Cuddeback camera. And it didn't take long to get a second photo:
Fisher crossing log
11/12, Fremont, NY
Since then, fisher have shown up regularly on my cameras. They really are rapidly expanding their range in our part of New York State. Most of my students have never seen one and many do not live in areas where fisher are common yet. So although we are targeting black bears in this particular project, the fisher photos are welcomed by all.
To increase our chances of bear captures, we set out ten (or so) cameras for two weeks in a variety of situations including game trails, mowed paths and likely looking locations on the landscape. But the
Adding lure to a rotting log
secret weapon has been the use of a commercially available lure called Ultimate Bear Lure by a company called Wildlife Research Center. This sweet-smelling lure has brought bears to the cameras in the past but we also get other animals like red fox, raccoon and even deer sniffing at the lure. And of course, fisher. At left is a photo of me taking a minute out of my turkey hunting to freshen up the scent at this set. I chose this location because I believe the rotting log holds the scent better than just pouring it into the ground. Besides, that's my Dad's hunting blind in the background and this set can serve double duty by scouting for deer.

Although no bears appeared at this set, we did capture a fisher marking over the scent. According to Elbroch and Rinehart (2011), fisher will rub their bellies to scent mark. The Reconyx camera at this set took several bursts of ten images that work almost as a video. Have a look:
This was an exciting capture for me. I love documenting a behavior or other aspect of an animal's natural history. This particular scent marking was new to me, and I was excited to read about it. It wasn't long before I was able to put this new knowledge into practice.

Fisher tracks in fresh snow
11/12, Fremont, NY
I started this blog entry by talking of two autumn traditions. The first was setting camera traps for my bear class and the other is hunting with my Father. This year's deer season didn't produce many deer but was productive in other ways. Last weekend, while heading to my hunting spot, I found fisher tracks. It has snowed overnight so these were very fresh tracks. I wondered if the fisher visited that tree to scent mark. I couldn't detect any odor though. I back tracked this fisher for a few hundred yards. A typical gait for fisher is a lope. Here, the fisher loped down the center of the trail and was straddled by Dad's ATV.

Fisher tracks
Fisher are members of the weasel family and have five toes on each foot. 

That night, it snowed again. Maybe an inch, maybe less. In the morning I returned to my deer stand only to find fresh fisher tracks on top of the fisher trail from yesterday. I had questions! Was this the same fisher or another? Why would it retrace its own steps from the night before? Or was he following MY footsteps? Was this another fisher discovering an intruder? All these questions remain
Fisher scent marking
11/14, Fremont, NY
unanswered. As I followed fresh fisher tracks for the second time in two days, I found myself crossing the ATV trail. But this time the fisher did not walk across the trail. It dragged its belly in a scent marking behavior. I have to admit that for a moment I wondered if I was looking at an otter slide. But it was fisher. A fisher doing the same thing in the snow as the one on camera did on the log. In fact, given the large home ranges of fisher, this is most probably the same fisher as the one photographed. I took several pictures of this marking from different angles:

Above, you can see the imprints that the rear legs left when it shuffled its belly along the ground.

Fisher tracks
11/14, Fremont, Wayland NY

Fisher scent marking
11/14, Fremont NY
This fisher was in the mood to scent mark. Whereas I followed the fisher the day before for over 300 yards and did not find a single scent marking behavior, the fisher trail on this day showed numerous scenting. I found four scent marks within 20 yards of the ATV trail. I could not detect an oder at any of them (although I was stuffed up from a cold). Why the difference? I am left to wonder if somehow I influenced the fisher's behavior. Was the marking due to my footprints (and scent) or was this truly a second fisher marking over an intruder? It is questions like these that make camera trapping and tracking so enjoyable.


  1. Great post -- raises lots of questions about fisher behavior.

    If you have trouble getting your bear lure you may want to try beaver castoreum to lure bears to your camera traps. I've found it really attracts them - check my blog posts:

    1. Thanks for the tip! It seems castoreum is great for lots of stuff... :). I will try it for bears next time.


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